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Chinese- Americans and Their Food

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Food in the USA

Winter Volume: 2014 Issue: 21(4) pages: 24 to 25


Many in China and in other countries, Chinese or otherwise, ask us about Chinese food in the United States today? Also, what was it ten, twenty, or more years ago? We know of one lady from Toronto who is making six hours of television, six individual segments about early and current Chinese in the US. We can not wait to see these segments. She is not Chinese and she has great insight even if not from the country she is exploring. Has she considered the lives of Chinese who moved here ten years ago and will she compare them to those who came last year?

The answers to any one of these questions could fill one or more books and still leave lots omitted. She and I are not Chinese nor have we lived in China, though I have several China more than a dozen times; I need to learn how many visits she has made. I know I am the wrong person to try speak about Chinese in the US, is she? Readers, here is your chance to provide one or both of us with some answers.

I think one needs to begin with how many Chinese people now live in the US. That should be simple; but I know it does not have an easy nor does it have a simple answer. Even before responding, one needs to know who is Chinese. Must they have two parents born in China, be born there themselves, do their parents need to be born there and be Chinese on both sides?

Statistics in the US about Asians rarely subdivides them into the different Asian populations they are members of. Without that, responses to the original question has problems. Census data collected in US groups some ethnic people into one group or another and it may not be one single population; such is the case with Asian people. This group or clump of folk does not know if someone has a father of one ethnicity, a mother of another. What if both are not Chinese but one or more of their grandparents were? What if their grandparents are from two different Asian population groups, only one of which is Chinese but both were born in China? What if their parents and their parent's parents two generations back are from two different Asian populations? Got the problem?

There is only one category/racial group that counts Chinese people. The US census folk call them ‘Asians and Pacific Islanders.’ This group is the fastest growing racial group in the US in the last, that is the 2000 - 2010 census. Keep in mind that this last census though called the 2010 census was really done before that year, maybe eighteen months before but reported as the 2010 census.

So, who are these Asian and Pacific Islander people? They are the Chinese, Japanese, North and South Koreans, people from Thailand, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia; plus anyone who believes they belong in that group. They can be people with one or more Chinese parents, one or more Chinese grandparents, and any one else who checks that box and reports themselves as members of that group.

From 2000 to 2010, this Asian-Pacific Islander group grew by 45.6%. In one place, that actual number was reported as 17.3 million people. In actuality, it was not clear if that is their number now or how many they grew by. The sentence used was not as specific as we would like.

The total population in the US was reported as growing by 9.7% in those same ten years. We read that four million of them were Chinese. With huge intermarriage numbers, were they really Chinese? What do they mean by ‘really?’ In the second largest Asian group, there were 3.4% said to be Filipino. Following them were 3.2% who were Asian-Indians.

Of those who did report themselves as Chinese, most live in the New York City metropolitan area, 1.1 million of them do, the other large group live in California. Those living in the Los Angeles area were the second largest group at 484,000 who said they lived there and were Chinese. Those from California’s San Jose region were the third largest group with 327,000 from there. These numbers are probably more accurate as the people were actually interviewed there or the forms they sent in had a postmarks from there.

Not everyone agrees with any or all of these numbers. Another source advises there are more than 3.3 million Chinese in the USA as of the 2010 US census. That is about one percent of the total population in the US. The Chinese do constitute the largest ethnic sub-group of these Asian and Pacific Islanders. We read they are about twenty-two percent of that total, and that many know little or nothing about their traditional or Chinese culture. Every year, people from the People’s Republic of China, from Taiwan’s Republic of China, and from other Southeast Asia countries who say they are Chinese immigrate to the US.

What should be an easier question to answer, but may not be, is when did the first Chinese person come to the US? We believe they reached North America during the time of Spanish colonial rule over the Philippines (1565 - 1815). Do you know that California belonged to Mexico until 1848. Historians tell us that only a few Chinese had settled in the Philippines by the mid-18th century and the number who did from 1565 - 1815, a large number of years, has an unknown Chinese population. That, and what are ‘a few?’ Others disagree on both of these points, but most say they were merchants, sailors, other seamen, and students; and that their presence was only temporary. Temporary for how long?

American missionaries in China did send a small group of boys to the US for education. From 1818 to 1825 five of them stayed at the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, CT. One indisputable fact is that in 1854, Yung Wing was the first Chinese person to graduate from an American College; that was from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut that year.

One source we read said the first Chinese to come to the US arrived around 1820. How around is this? We know this to be false because three Chinese sailors did land in Baltimore before that in the year 1785. They did not get back on their ship which was the Pallas because it sailed back to Guangzhou one day before they were to board.

We can go on and on about differing statistics, but we do think you have the picture, a cloudy one at best. We are not statisticians but we do see these and many more discrepancies. Will this type of information ever be factual? These bits do make us wonder what will be correct answers, and when. Any ideas?

If we can not get actual numbers of the Chinese people in the US now to be correct, how can we or anyone figure out what they ate and when. That is a huge question; anyone out there want to tackle it?

                                                                                                                                                       
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